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The UNCRC is clear that children and young people should have a say in decisions that affect them now, not just when they are adults. This is important because they are experts on their own experience and can help make better decisions.
Over the last number of years there have been some positive developments in making sure children and young people are included in decision-making. The Children and Young People’s Strategy is a Government plan to make sure all children and young people can enjoy their rights and be supported to grow up safe and well. To help them with this, the Government has started a Participation in Decision Making Initiative that will make sure that all decision makers find out what children think to help them make decisions about things like education, health, environment and safety. The Assembly Commission has established the Northern Ireland Youth Assembly that aims to ensure children and young people’s voices are heard and taken seriously at Stormont when they are developing new laws.
It is good to see this progress in plans for participative structures that will make children and young people’s voices heard in decisions made at local and NI Government and that these opportunities will be linked to make sure information gets to the right people. It is important that this is followed up with proper feedback showing how children and young people’s opinions have been taken into account.
The Department of Education and Assembly Commission should work together to make sure the Youth Assembly and Participation in Decision Making Initiative are linked well to each other and to local participation forums in councils and schools.
We are sorry to see that the Department of Education still doesn’t tell schools that they must involve pupils in decision making in the school, even though NICCY and the UN Committee have said they should. More work is needed to make sure that pupil participation is meaningful and really help pupils have a say in their school life.
In response to this, NICCY developed its school council guidance pack with the co-operation and involvement of pupils, teachers, and key officials at board and department level. ‘Pupils’ Voices’ is a way to promote, support and enhance pupils having a say in school.